The First Crusade was provoked by the preaching of Crusade against the Muslims by Urban II, at a synod at Clermont in November 1095. There had earlier been an appeal to the West for aid against the Muslims by Alexus Emperor of Constantinople, whose Eastern Roman empire the Muslims were threatening. Urban’s appeal widened the scope of the affair into the pious goal of rescuing the holy places in Palestine from Muslim domination.
The Western armies had earlier fought the Muslims(“Moors”) in Spain and Sicily, in the effort to expel them from the territories they held in Western Europe. In the East,the Muslims had for many years been persecuting pilgrims and threatening the Eastern half of the Roman Empire.
The First Crusade was essentially a popular movement estimated to have involved a mass movement of close to a million people in eastern migration(close in scope to the barbarian migrations which led to the fall of the Roman Empire). The largely French crowd that heard the preaching of Urban II responded enthusiastically. Subsequent preaching for a Crusade by Peter the Hermit and Walter the Penniless snowballed enthusiasm into a growing crowd of illiterate peasants marching through Germany, Hungary and the Balkans in 1096, much to the alarm of the Emperor of Constantinople who had not foreseen that the Western response to his appeal would be a popular unorganized mass movement of zealous but misguided peasants!
The crowd was hurriedly allowed to cross the straits into Asia Minor where it was massacred by the Turks with the remnant taken as prisoners or sold into slavery. A second wave of Crusaders led by nobles from France, Belgium and Norman Italy consisting of properly organized professional troops landed in Constantinople in the Spring of 1097. Nicaea was taken after a siege and Antioch by the spring of 1098. Jerusalem was captured in the spring of 1099. After the success of the Crusaders the feudal lords at the head of the Crusading armies settled down to carving out fiefdoms for themselves in captured areas. Many of the European styled castles in the Near East date from the time of the First Crusade. The province of Jerusalem became the fiefdom of Godfrey of Bouillon(“Kingdom of Jerusalem”). The Order of the Knights Templar and Hospitallers was formed to provide protection for Christian pilgrims and fight against the Muslims.
The Second Crusade arose from the need to deal with the threat to Jerusalem from the northwestern flank of the Kingdom after the fall of the Kingdom of Edessa to the Muslims. Bernard of Clairvaux (a famous mystic) by his preachings and exhortations roused the King of France and the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire to action. The Second Crusade, however, was a failure for Jerusalem was recaptured by the Muslims under Saladin in 1187.
The Third Crusade(1189-92) is known as the King’s Crusade and came under the leadership of Phillip Augustus of France, Richard of England and Emperor Frederick (“Barbarossa”). The Third Crusade met with early crisis when “Barbarossa” was accidentally drowned on the way to Palestine; and Phillip Augustus had a disagreement with Richard and returned home. Richard had to proceed with the Crusade alone. He was,however, unable to dislodge the Muslims from Jerusalem but he scored the partial success of an agreement with Saladin which granted Christian pilgrims access to Jerusalem.
The Fourth Crusade was at the instance of Innocent III and other French priests. It was, therefore, essentially a French crusade under papal direction. Boats were needed by the Crusaders for transportation and the Doge of Venice offered to supply them at a price. The Crusaders, however,could not afford the sum and in payment they agreed to help the Venetians recapture Zara, a town that had once been under Venetian control. After the recapture of Zara, the crusaders made a sudden change in objective. Rather than sail to Alexandria in Egypt, they sailed to Constantinople and laid siege on the city. Constantinople, capital of the Eastern Roman Empire was captured in 1204. Although Innocent had not been involved in the decision to divert the Crusade to Constantinople, he gladly accepted the results for at last, the Greek Church in the Eastern Empire came under Papal authority, bringing the power of the Pope to a new zenith in Europe. Besides, the strategic military significance of the new possession was obvious. Constantinople could serve as convenient base for a Fifth Crusade against the Muslims.
Innocent III also sponsored a Crusade under the leadership of Simon de Montfort against the Albigensis (Cathari)of Southern France in 1208, and a savage war which virtually exterminated the “heretical” sect was fought. The Fifth and Sixth Crusades were only partially successful. Frederick leader of the Sixth Crusade successfully negotiated an agreement with the Muslims allowing the Christians control over Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth.But subsequent Crusades failed to keep Jerusalem under Christian control and Jerusalem fell under the control of the Saracens who succeeded the Seljuk Turks to power in Palestine.
A sad event occurred in 1212; the Children’s Crusade. Two boys, barely in their teens, Stephen and Nicholas led an “Army” of “pious” children across southern Europe to Italy in a bid to sail to the Holy Land but were captured and sold by unscrupulous merchants into slavery. The Children had believed that their innocence would guarantee their success where their “sinful” parents had failed.
The Crusades ended in 1291 with the fall of Acre to the Muslims.